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The Stigma Around Addicts


The first time I had alcohol it was rubbed on my gums to numb them from teeth growing in. I was probably 7. A few years later, I was allowed a sip of a cooler to taste it. I was still young when I knew my mom’s drinking wasn’t normal. I didn’t have the vocabulary for it at the time, but she would binge drink. While buzzed her entire mood would shift to sad or angry and often she would reminisce to me about her childhood and adult traumas. For all of these reasons I had promised myself I would not drink when I was an adult.

When I was 19 my mom came with me to my work staff party, which was close to my birthday, and went with me and my co-workers to get me my first legal drink. I had two and still didn’t understand the appeal. Less than two years later I was drinking a few times a week to try to get the attention of a less than mediocre man. By this point my mom had been diagnosed with dementia and I was completely alone for the first time in my life. It took me years to realize that it wasn’t that alcohol had suddenly interested me. I still didn’t like how alcohol tasted, I only liked the affect that it had and I had only started to consume it to feel some sort of connection with people once feeling orphaned.

While further sliding into my alcoholism and substance abuse issues, I was well aware why I was doing it, that I could do better and that I should be sober. About a year into using I went to a one-on-one therapist in Moncton at the university to try to talk out my issues. I found trying to express the emotions and feeling surrounding drug use very hard in French. After two sessions the therapist I was seeing went on his summer leave, without warning, and I decided that this wasn’t for me. I felt I had the will power to be sober and could do it without professional help. Two years later, once in Toronto, I sought out professional help again at Women’s College Hospital and joined at PTSD and Substance Abuse group. It was helpful but I wasn’t fully committed to being sober until I finally moved to my father’s. Once there I joined two sobriety groups and was able to get one-on-one counselling with my current counsellor. As you can see, my journey has not been easy but it has been made easier by surrounding myself with support.

As someone who identifies as an addict, I hear a lot of the prejudice around addicts but it doesn’t seem to be directed at me. Because I managed to keep my head above water, stay off the streets, continue to be high functioning while an addict, I have never been called “a junkie” or faced adversity for being an addict. Marginalised groups are often the sufferers of addictions or the opioid crisis. In America we see that a lot of Black people are addicts. They are the least educated and struggling the most, and cope with their traumas from being marginalized with substances. Here in Canada, we speak the same way about the Indigenous who abuse substances to cope with the years of racism they have suffered on their own land. Both of these groups have generational trauma caused by White Privilege and Colonisation.

When I come forth to speak about my trauma, I tend to receive only praise about being “brave enough to speak” my truth. In all of the support groups listed above, I was never met with shame for being a POC who used substances, but rather met with awe at coming forward at such a young age and being so brutally honest about my journey to sobriety. I sense that in Canada most support groups are open and welcoming to all kinds, though I will be exploring this idea in another blog soon! What hasn’t been as welcoming, is seeing how people react to addicts on social media despite knowing an addict (me). I still see a lot of people who claim that the poor need to be able to help themselves (more on that in a future blog), and that addicts have gotten themselves in the position they are in and need to be able to be self sufficient. Just like the generalized Black and Native addicts, I have generational trauma. I come from a long line of alcoholics coping with various trauma, and I coped in the same way they did as soon as sh*t hit the fan.

Much like with my Blackness and feeling Other, because I am accessible to my friends, I am not like “other addicts”. People can understand why I chose to abuse substances when I describe being sheltered, having no community, my moms illness, my own sexual assaults leading up to my need to use substances. This reality is the same when I talk about my struggles being Black, being Bi, being a Woman, and people around me can understand because I am relatable. These same people often don’t have the same remorse or sympathy for other addicts who are just like me. You shouldn’t have to know the addict to feel they deserve the same mental health opportunities as I have had. While I may have been smart in school, I was on welfare and a minority. If a few details had been changed, I might have been considered as deserving of my addictions and misfortune.

What I’ve learned from being an addict is that no one has ever wanted to be one. While abusing substances numbs the pain of trauma, all addicts understand that continuing to abuse substances will only make it worse and yet we continue because it is easier to be a victim, it is easier to stay in the familiar, and it is easier to be numb than to feel pain. I believe that all addicts lose themselves, lose their way, but we all want to be helped, to help ourselves – we just don’t know how. That same statement goes for all addicts, not just POC addicts. POC addicts do have to face daily adversity, and generational trauma on top of their addiction issues. It is hard to try to love yourself, to find a way forward, when society has told you that you are worthless and that because you are not white you deserve your struggle.

Though my generational trauma was on the white side of my family, I was offered a glimpse of what like could be like if no one ever helped me see my own potential. Without being given the support and kindness of those around me, I believe my struggle would have been harder. It is important we support Black and POC addicts in all communities who need the extra push to eb reminded of their worth, that they are strong enough to end their generational trauma, and that they deserve sober and successful lives.

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